Thursday, January 30, 2014

Bishop's should be afraid

The scandal surrounding the removal of German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg should fill all bishops with fear, yes there was a diocesan project which ran over budget and there was a huge public outcry and the bishop hit the popular media as 'the bling bishop' but according to Crisis Magazine the overspend was overseen by the relevant diocesan committee and the public outcry was orchestrated by one of the Bishops own priests.

Spending vast amounts is not unusual for German bishops It is reported they will have to pay about 89 million dollars after they have led their Weltbild into bankruptcy. Weltbild, the publishing house they own hit the headlines when it was revealed last year it also published pornography. The money will be used to keep the business running until a solution for the misbegotten company is found. Augsburg bishop Konrad Zdarsa has declared that the money is paid in order to contain the public effects of the bankruptcy.

The Bishop's real crime was that he attempted to control the "The Lobby", he removed a priest from office who had blessed a same sex  couple's union, his other 'crimes' seem to be that he attempted to kerb the power of left leaning clergy and laity, those that have been the rise in the last few months in our own country, those who push for the Church to accept divorce and remarriage, female ordination, the return of married clergy, the abolition of celibacy, a liberalisation of liturgical practices etc.

The Bishop taught the Catholic faith to his diocese which had really thrown it off and accepted an entirely different Magisterium. Far from being the villain he has been portrayed as, he seems to have been the heroic voice crying in the wilderness. Now it seems the diocese will either be absorbed into other German dioceses or have a new bishop appointed by Rome.

What worries me is that the rise of ACTA activity, which seems to have same ends as many in the diocese of Limburg,  in the dioceses of England and Wales, with at least the passive support of some of our bishops, will make many of diocese ungovernable or so absorbed in internal bickering they will be rendered unfit for mission for another generation. Again a prediction for the future, before the end of this Papacy there will be many more Limburgs.

Though judging from his words to the delegation of from Notre Dame University in the USA today the Pope seems, at last, to be getting wise to those who wilfully use him as an ally to dissent.
Essential in this regard is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors. It is my hope that the University of Notre Dame will continue to offer unambiguous testimony to this aspect of its foundational Catholic identity, especially in the face of efforts, from whatever quarter, to dilute that indispensable witness. And this is important: its identity, as it was intended from the beginning. To defend it, to preserve it and to advance it!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Attracting the Larus Argentatus

In the spring my parishioners are often distracted by fornicating pigeons on the glorious east window, the rest of the time they roost quietly leaving their droppings to stain the stone work and to fall on the plants in my postage stamp sized garden. When I look see them Tom Lehrer's solution comes to mind.

But we all know that would be illegal and wicked. I have been urged to think 'spikes' but that I think would be even worst than pigeon detritus dropping down from the window. I am told that a plastic owl or a kestral would scare them off, but only for a while. My pigeons are close relatives of doves, they both belong to the genus columba: so after the incident on Sunday in St Peter's Square, would the Franciscan solution be the answer?
Brighton is full of gulls, they rip open bin bags left outside the cities restuarants and leave rubbish all over the place. In Latin of course they are larus argentatus, just like the one that seems to have taken up station on the chimney of the Sistine Chapel during the Conclave and attacked the dove Pope Francis had released.

Rather than having a Conclave, would a few sprats in my freezer occasionally thrown into the garden attract a marauding larus. I want one to take a franchise on the garden and the church and declare it a no-go territory  for pigeons, whilst leaving the rather friendly blackbird that nests in the shrubbery to get on with his family life with his wife and chicks.

If a gull can take up rule of the Vatican why not here?

Monday, January 27, 2014

'Noble Simplicity'

We  don't have an Old Rite Missa Cantata often but we have decided to have one next Sunday, its Candlemass, so rather than a 10.30 sung Novus Ordo our 6.30pmwill be our 'principle Mass' so it will be Asperges, blessing of candles, procession and Mass. Our MC is reading and re-reading his Fortescue and Reid, and I am trying to remember those prayers I don't normally say.

I have been thinking about the concept of 'noble simplicity' lately, mainly because some pictures of rather overblown Christmas decorations in churches I have seen. I mean trees that dominate the sanctuary, or the worst examples, cribs that obscure the altar. Those are neither noble nor simple. Accounts of Christmas liturgies where the Liturgy of the Word is replaced by some sort of Nativity Play complete with braying donkey are a contradiction of 'noble simplicity', they show a deep discomfort with Mgr Bugnini's liturgy. One of the problems with the Novus Ordo is that there is a temptation to add complexity onto complexity, idea onto idea, theme upon theme, to the point where focus is lost.

Despite the apparent complexity of the Old Rite, even on special days like Candlemas, for a non-Latin speaking member of the congregation there is something quite remarkable about returning to the same basic ideas, which are hammered deep into the soul with every Mass attended: we pray, bread and wine is offered and God comes to us, or even more simply put:  God comes to us: we worship. This is a simple kerygmatic proclamation, the Gospel and the mystery of the Church at its absolute simplest and most basic. For those with Latin or who bother with a Missal various subordinate ideas are there, right down to the details of the Gospel and Epistle and the intricacies of the prayers and chants but essentially, the dominating message is one of worship in which the relationship between man and God is clearly seen.
I have often wondered why I feel compelled to preach -at least explain the scriptures- at the Novus Ordo but at the Old Rite I feel no such compunction, as a priest I simply want to worship along with my people I want to immerse myself in the Mysteries I am celebrating.
The principle of 'noble simplicity' is important in catechesis too. For converts who generally already always believe in God, we can get terribly complicated and present the faith as a series of propositions, it is that which leads complexity. The noble and simple message is contained in the simple statement the present Rite of Reception of an Adult demands, apart from the recitation of the Creed the conversi are expected to be able to say, "I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God." Explaining why this is required and its meaning, is presumably the purpose and end of convert instruction, the RCIA process, Catholic education etc.

Presumably if one fails to believe and also profess it, it is time to stop conning oneself and leave the Church.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Joanna Bogle to Speak on Mother Riccarda

Joanna Bogle is coming to speak here on Tuesday evening will talk about her latest book on Mother Riccarda, who was baptised in our Church and whose cause for canonisation is making good progress. She was declare ‘Venerable’ last July.
If you want to come Mass is in the Church at 6.30pm and Joanna's talk is at 7pm in the Parish Centre.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The scandal will become greater

One of the things that has been on the rise in the last few months is the rise of ACTA, often apparently with the support of Auxiliary Bishops. To be charitable if I were a Bishop I would do my best to go out and meet these straying sheep and draw them back into the fold, I hope this is what these Bishops intend to do, but who am I to judge.

The wound of Pope Benedict's resignation should have resulted in a Papacy that was  concerned with healing divisions.The great problem is Pope himself has not focussed on healing, instead he allows himself to be presented as supporting the fragmentary initiatives and the dog-whistle words and terms that are put into his mouth, or that he chooses, all seem to add fuel to controversies which had under the last two Popes had died down.
The primary function of the successor of Peter is to ensure the unity of the Church, so the Church might be effective in its mission. Pope Francis wants us to go to the peripheries and to evangelise and as the Vatican Council reminds us disunity among Christians is a scandal that destroys belief. The scandal will become greater. I do not think that one needs to be a great prophet to predict that the next few months and years are going to bring us increased divisions and polarisation between Catholics that are seriously going to damage the Church's mission. None of the issues ACTA raises are concerned about mission all are ad intra churchy issues.

A few months ago I heard of one young priest, an assistant priest, who discovered and advert for an ACTA meeting on his parish newsletter and had all 800 copies destroyed. The divisions and the battles will be generational, among the clergy the John-Paul/Benedict generation, the young, will be supporting orthodoxy, the old heterodoxy.

Now is the time to pray for Unity within the Church.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Once we had millions of Evangelists

I say the Old Mass for a variety of reason, many aesthetic, some spiritual but the ultimate reason is one of justice. It isn't simply a matter of 'What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too', it is deeper than that. It hits at the very heart of the what the Church is about, what Christ is about. 
I am glads my friend Fr Hunwicke has had the courage to put his finger on what the issue really is, it is about 'Truth'. Justice and Truth are partners. Fr Hunwicke dares to say:
Summorum pontificum confirmed juridically that the Latin Church had lived for some four decades under the dominion of a lie. The Vetus Ordo had not been lawfully prohibited. Much persecution of devout priests and layfolk that took place during those decades is therefore now seen to have been vis sine lege. For this so long to have been so true with regard to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which lies at the heart of the Church's life, argues a profound illness deep within the Latin Church. And the Big Lie was reinforced by multitudes of Little Lies ... that the Council mandated reordered Sanctuaries ... that the Council mandated exclusive use of the vernacular ... The de facto situation created by the Big Lie and the Little Lies combined ought not to be regarded as normative. Its questionable parentage must give it a degree of provisionality, even (perhaps especially) to those who find it comfortable to live with. The onslaught upon the Franciscans of the Immaculate suggests that there are those, high in the Church's administration, who have still internalised neither the juridical findings of Summorum pontificum nor its pastoral call for harmony.
Christians cannot compromise with Truth, we cannot live with Untruth or compromise with it, there can be no co-mixture with Truth and Lies, we are either searching for the Truth and exalting it or crucifying it:
Therefore Pilate said to Him, "So You are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice."
Earlier in the same Gospel he had said:
I am the Way, the Truth and Life. 
We cannot compromise with the Truth, if we are to be taken seriously as witnesses to the Truth. We cannot compromise with the Truth if we are to be credible witnesses.  There can be no worthwhile evangelisation unless it begins and ends in Truth and unless the evangelisers are believable. Personally, I believe that the 'misson' of the Second Vatican Council was to find a way to express the Truth in the modern world, however in the interpretation of the Council's teaching a fracture was introduced between the Church's practice and prayer, and the Church's belief. The fracture meant the Church lost its credibility, hence our churches emptied. We became seen as 'hypocritical'. We lost the sense of  'noble simplicity' which comes from the basic premise of the Catholic Church that Jesus Christ is God, God founded the Church and promises to be with it until the end of time, hence you can -and must- trust the Catholic Church, the Church ceased to be immediately intelligible, the greater Truth was obscured by lesser truths. 

In practice it meant that theology, and everything else, including liturgy, became the realm of the specialist, for example the Missal might say 'the priest turns to the people' but the specialist tells us that the priest is already facing the people, so really the plain meaning of the text means something other than it says. The same of course happens with scripture, Jesus says ..., and the Tradition and practice of the Church has always understood him to have  meant.... but the the specialist says something totally different. Take for example salvation and the necessity of Baptism and Holy Communion, or the inviolability of marriage and the impossibility of re-marriage after divorce, Jesus says one thing and Cardinal Maradiaga tells Abp Mueller to 'lighten up'.
We once had millions of Evangelists, now we have few, if any. Evangelism and catechesis have become the function of the specialist. The great problem is that grandmother sitting at the kitchen fire with her grandchildren could no longer be trusted to pass on the faith she had received from her grandmother. The Faith, the Truth, is no longer clear, no longer the possession of the ordinary holy believer in the pew but is something handed down from the specialist Cardinal or Archbishop or Pope or theologian. It should be the possession of all Catholic Christians and therefore must be certain, unchangeable and rooted, above all it must be obviously True. The Truth cannot be recognised in an institution where lies are normal, or where jargon or obscurity replaces ordinary speech.
True Evangelisation can only be achieved by a radical commitment to the Truth.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mindzenty's Legacy

I had a free night recently and watched this 1950 film, Guilty of Treason it is about the persecution and trial of Cardinal Mindzenty, it reflects its culture and its time but it contains the central message that no political regime can tolerate. 'Mindzenty must be destroyed', is the central message of the film.

Earlier I had read an article about a new document by the International Theological Commission, entitled "The Triune God, Unity of People. Christian Monotheism Against Violence ", which was commissioned by Pope Benedict, which identifies modern cultures as polytheistic: if there are many gods then there are many truths. Monotheism says there is one Truth, polytheism can happily exist with multiple or even conflicting truths. Hence modern western culture is pro-gods but ultimately anti-God and desires the destruction of God.

I am afraid my source is Eponymous Flower, the translation is a bit painful but I am grateful they make an attempt. It is significant that the document speaks not only about why the Church is persecuted today but also how. If you watch the film you will see that almost 65 years on things haven't changed, either the reasons for persecution or the methods. Magister also has short piece on the same document.

In Mindzenty's case persecution was because of his stance on the education of children and involved first the destruction of his reputation, then the destruction of him as person.
It is a sad reflection on the Church's history that in the 1950s/60s Mindzenty became an embarrassment to the Holy See and was as much a thorn in Cardinal Casaroli's side as he was for the Communist regime.
József Mindszenty (29 March 1892 – 6 May 1975) was the Prince Primate, Archbishop of Esztergom, cardinal, and leader of the Catholic Church in Hungary from 2 October 1945 to 18 December 1973. For five decades, he personified uncompromising opposition to fascism and communism in Hungary in support of religious freedom.[1] During World War II, he was imprisoned by the pro-Nazi authorities.[2] After the war, he opposed communism and the communist persecution in his country. As a result, he was tortured and given a life sentence in a 1949 show trial that generated worldwide condemnation, including a United Nations resolution. After eight years in prison, he was freed in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and granted political asylum by the United States embassy in Budapest, where Mindszenty lived for the next fifteen years.[2] He was finally allowed to leave the country in 1971. He died in exile in 1975 in Vienna, Austria.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Congratulations to the Cardinal Elect Archbishop Nichols

My congratulations to the Cardinal Elect Archbishop Nichols.

It is perhaps sign of the times that some people are literally gushing over his nomination. Terence Wheldon and the Guardian welcome his support of the Soho Gay Masses, which in fact as William Oddie pointed out he stopped. Though some might suggest he merely moved them, a more charitable understanding is that he gradually tried to take control of something that began life as something almost in schism, taking place in an Anglican Church, with no oversight from the diocese, entirely under the control of its own Pastoral Council, designing its own liturgies, selecting its own priests, setting its own theology. Moving them to Farm Street with the insistence that they integrate themselves with parish life is progress, though slower than some would want.

The youthful Vincent Nichols was certainly a 'son of the Council', a key collaborator with the Hume-Worlock axis that more than anything broke with the past and some might argue introduced a serious break with the Church's working class roots and introducing the tyranny of the specialist. At 68 Vincent Nichols like all of us is not the same man he was at 28. He has moved on, like all of us he has learnt from his mistakes and the mistakes of others.

One of the most frightening comments on his appointment is by Gerrard O'Connor on the Vatican Insider, I don't know if it is meant to be tongue-in-cheek but if you want to see the career of a 'careerist' read his article. O'Connor seems to be saying that his appointment to the College of Cardinals is about business as normal, back to the old trail of  English College, Ecclesdon Square, service with the Bishop's Conference, appointment as a Bishop, nothing other than the apotheosis of the Magic Circle. For those who hoped for serious reform, this is one of the most depressing accounts I have read, it suggests, without saying, it that Francis' reforms are mere window dressing.

There is too much spin put on Abp Nichols' appointment. Cormac has reached 80 therefore there is no English voting Cardinal. Vincent Nichols has been an Archbishop for five years, and Britain unlike other European countries is in the unusual situation of normally having two votes in a Conclave, now with Cormac's retirement and his Scottish opposite number being in disgrace and being unlikely to be replaced until he himself reaches 80. At that time it might be worth asking whether England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland actually merit three red hats.

Despite the rather sad statistics of decrease in practice that came out earlier this week the English Church is seen as moderate compared to Germany or France, and holding its own. Such issues as sex abuse, compared with Ireland have been dealt with reasonably well. Compared with the USA the English Church is more or less united. There are few serious scandals that have come to the fore. Archbishop Nichols appears in Rome as a competent administrator, an asset, which despite the spin, is precisely what Pope Francis is looking for, if Curial reform is a real priority. His Grace, though less outgoing than his predecessor, knows how to read the signs of times.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sola Burke

Wearing his scarlet zuchetto under his trilby Raymond Cardinal Burke was apparently the only prelate to appear at a small demonstration in the Piazza Santi Apostoli led by “Manif pour Tous—Italia”. Every other Cardinal and Bishop in Rome was otherwise engaged.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Baptism of the Lord Sermon

I know some priests celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord by getting their congregations to remember their own Baptism, there is nothing wrong in that, except it misses the point.

John's Baptism is something intensely Jewish, it is part of those Jewish purification rituals, the washing up to the elbow on returning from the market place, the sprinkling of oneself, the bathing in mikvah after childbirth, menstruation, contact with a corpse, such purification was a necessary part of becoming a Jew. The Qumran excavations on the Dead Sea with it numerous cisterns and bathing pools show evidence of how important such rituals were to this particular sect, to the point where some have suggested John was a member, that is probably stretching things, bathing was an important ritual for all Jews.

John's baptism was a simple ritual act, that could presumably be repeated regularly, it had a psychological effect but no effective spiritual one. It did not take away sins, it gave no indelible mark to the soul, it did not transform who was in one's relationship with God, it was not salvific, it did not give Eternal Life.

John tells us that "I baptize you with water but but there shall come one mightier that I, ....he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire". During his ministry St John's Gospel us that Jesus disciple's baptised but he did not. However before the Ascension his last words to the Apostles are, "And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

The baptism we have received from Jesus, through his Church is radically different to John the Baptist's baptism. It is a different as the Covenant between Moses and the Jews, which had nothing to do with salvation, it was simply, "If you keep my commandments I will be your God", unlike the New and Eternal Covenant made through the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God who -alone- takes away the sins of the world.
Who says, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." This is the difference between the New and Old Testaments, or Covenants!

Christian baptism, like the other sacraments changes everything, hence the Church has always been very insistent on distinguishing between valid and invalid sacraments. John's ritual was not a valid sacrament, it was merely a ritual, except in the case of Jesus, heaven was not opened, no voice was heard saying, "this is my beloved Son", the Holy Spirit descended on no-one. In Christian baptism, heaven does open up for us, the Father does say, "you are my Son (my Daughter)", the Holy Spirit has descended on us with all His sanctifying power to enable us to become by adoption what Christ is by nature.

It is the great fault of many celebrations of the Sacraments that we emphasise what we do rather than what God does. The Holy Eucharist becomes 'sharing', Confession becomes therapy or spiritual direction, Marriage becomes merely a wedding, Ordination becomes about power, the Sacrament of the Sick is becomes 'comfort', Confirmation becomes a 'rite of passage'. Jesus in his baptism sees Heaven, hears God, 'feels' the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Notice the evangelist is concerned not with human things but with what God does. In the sacraments we need to notice what God does to us through his Grace.
As a Greek Bishop said about Holy Communion, "it is not so much our reception of God but God's reception of us that matters".
Let us keep our eyes on God and his Grace, on the His effects on what is at the very heart of our being our eternal Soul.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Preferential Option for the Super-Rich

Sir David Barclay (left) and his twin brother Sir Frederick Barclay after receiving their knighthoods in 2001

If you haven't read it Luke Coppen's article in the Spectator Sorry — but Pope Francis is no liberal is well worth reading, he suggests the image of Pope Francis the world has fallen in love with is a liberal media construct. There is one particularly disturbing passage in it that is highly problematic and which I fear Francis will never touch, it is the Church's relationship with the extremely wealthy.
Under Francis, the church is deeply committed to what theologians call ‘the preferential option for the poor’. But in order to opt for the poor, the church has to court the super-rich. A few generous multi-millionaires, for example, fund most of the major Catholic initiatives in England and Wales (including a significant part of Benedict XVI’s state visit in 2010). If just one of them was put off by the distorted ‘Marxist’ image of Francis, the church here would be in trouble.
I am not quite sure who these 'super-rich' are, perhaps those who own the 'Catholic media', perhaps the directors or trustees of the Tablet or the Universe, or even Luke's own paper the Catholic Herald. At one time the Church was enthrall to a small group of wealthy Catholic aristocrats, the Duke of Norfolk, the Marquis of Bute, more recently the Brenninkmeijer Trust or the Barclay brothers have come to Church's aid.

The great problem is that the rich have a voice that tends to be heard above the poor and above the voice of Christ. If you are a bishop and you have a pet project: setting up school or some kind of pastoral project or even restoring one's Cathedral, you are more likely to listen to and flatter a rich potential donor than anyone else. If that rich person is in a second marriage, or attached to the Traditional Mass or part of the 'gay lobby' or a liberal or whatever it is an easy temptation to make some 'pastoral' provision or to form one's preaching and teaching to accommodate them. In the past we called this simony and treated it as very grave sin.
The post Vatican II era, littered by numerous 'initiatives' gave a new impetus to such wealthy people.

I suspect that few Catholic journalists will ever 'follow the money' and relate it to the preaching of our bishops. One aspect of ‘the preferential option for the poor’, is that the Church looks to the needs of the vast majority rather than a narrow clique of the wealthy and powerful. Will Francis change this? Well, forgive my cynicism  but the radical change that would be necessary is probably beyond him, even  if he feels it is necessary.  Ernst & Young have just be given the contract to oversee Vatican finances, perhaps making the wealthy our friends might be the best way of dealing with them, we might even be able to influence them. The problem in E & W is, I suspect, the wealthy and the powerful have had more influence on us than we on them. Bishops enjoy being in their company and rarely make demands on them, other than signature on a cheque or photo opportunity.

Now, who is coming for dinner this weekend?

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Francis Effect

'The Francis effect' can be overstated, I have not experienced a great surge in those seeking God's mercy in Confession over Christmas for example or the rise in Mass attendance, I think maybe priests in Rome might, and to some extent the rest of Italy too. Certainly one of my hopes, I expressed before the Conclave, was that the new Pope would strengthen his own diocese. A few of my parishioners are young Roman Catholics and their families seem to be deeply taken by their new Bishop. Amongst the Roman clergy there seems to be a certain ambivalence from what I have heard, it began with the Pope choosing not to wash their feet on Holy Thursday and like most clergy, the older ones are glad to return to the 1970s/80s, the younger ones ordained under JPII and Benedict are as confused as the rest of us by where we might be being taken. Secular clergy tend to have difficulties with religious, especially Jesuit bishops.

The obvious Francis effect is in the media's attitude to the Catholic Church, one signifier is the move of John Allen from the NCR to the Boston Glob., Francis has moved the media on if not the Church. As one commentator said 'he answers the questions people are asking'. By refusing to be confined to questions about abortion, contraception, homosexuality he is able to suggest that the Church has an interest poverty, unemployment, economics. These are issues Benedict raised but the he was elected after the declining years of JPII the world's media was already into 'hate the Church mode', the child abuse scandal had already broken and was the maelstrom Benedict's Papacy was caught up in. Would I be wrong to suggest that most journalists are looking for an alternative to what the world has to offer?
Pope Francis gives a lamb a lift during a  visit to a Nativity scene at the Church of St Alfonso Maria dei Liguori Below: Francis chats to two children taking part in the nativity (CNS)
Personally, Francis makes me question how I treat the poor but then I follow what he says pretty closely, I get annoyed by his nagging tone but he is Pope, I worry about his lack of English and lack of an understanding of Europe and North America and the power he gives to his lieutenants and the sense of nepotism I pick up. But in many ways I hope he will go further than he probably will. I recognise I will either be disappointed or discomforted.

Unlike other voices on the world stage Francis has something radical to say, there is now a novelty in the Christian message uttered in an essentially post Christian society. In the West where the only big idea most politicians can can come up with is about 'equalities' issues, which is ultimately bankrupt, and is really an increasingly minority interest the further it extends down the LGBTBC.... spectrum until it ends up in the yuk factor, when it touches what most people, even at the beginning of that spectrum would consider as perversities. Christianity if it is radical enough is subversive, the naked girls Femen dancing on the High Altar of Cologne Cathedral are not radical merely the daughters of the new Establishment.

I want Francis to confront the world with its own hypocrisy and to suggest that Christianity offers a new radical vision of humanity, something that is is not based on an economic well being but on human dignity. The decision to call the Extraordinary Synod on the family could be a master-stroke. In my parish I see women, often alone, desperately struggling with balancing child care and career often in a situation of if not poverty then certainly economic difficulty, there is real need for a new 'feminism'. One of the most exciting parts of our marriage course is the part on Natural Family Planning, not because couples want to 'space'  their children but because they have left building a family to middle-age and are desperate to conceive. They have swallowed the contemporary lie concentrated on wealth and career rather than relationships and children. Indeed the problem with the elderly is essentially loneliness which isn't solved, except superficially by an economic solution. I really am sick of hearing of the premature deaths of young men, almost half of the funerals I did last year were of young men who died at their own hands either directly through suicide or indirectly through addiction. Societies big problem is loneliness and isolation, spiritually it leads to sin, socially it leads to pain, dysfunction and the grave. It is something religion can deal with but not governments unless they are willing to shed an immense of baggage and start rebuilding society from the soul up, through personal relationships and the family and social responsibility.

This morning 'S' came to the door to say 'good-bye' and to collect a rosary. He was hungry, he stole a couple of sandwiches, he was put on probation, he failed to turn up to an interview, he is homeless and has mental health issues, he was confused or forgot, he now faces custody, he was on his way to turn himself in to the police - pray for him. His story can be repeated time and again, it shows not just injustice but a casualty of our society. I don't know how one deals with him but obviously neither does society, the Gospel tells us he needs to know the mercy of God, loving and friendship, kindness and healing, prison wont help.

It isn't the place of the Church or the Pope to come up with practical solutions but to confront the world with its evils, not necessarily by entering into a discussion about those evils but by offering the beauty of an alternative - the love of the Incarnate God and the teaching of the Gospel.
I like the idea in Matthew's Gospel that the Magi search for the Messiah at Herod's court and in doing so unleash the 'massacre of the innocents', leaving the obvious place to find a king the resume following the star and find the child with his mother in Bethlehem.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Ecclesiastical Baubles

"Well, the Bishop hates those tedious ecumenical services, as much as he hates tedious technical meetings, so he asked me to go in his place, then he thought sending an ordinary priest was a bit insulting and seemed to suggest too openly that he couldn't be bothered, so he thought a faux bishop with a bit of purple and an exotic title might help"
This was the rather disarming response to a question to a friend when I asked him why he was made a Monsignor. The same priest said it is a bit of litmus test, "When priests write to me, if they use the full title they are normally angry with me, whereas if they use my Christian name they are normally being friendly.

I must say titles and the right to wear a purple doesn't get me excited one way or the other, lay people like these things, priests tend to regard it as bit meaningless, even silly. As a friend of mine said after being given a title, "Ah sure, it'll impress the postman!" In one diocese when four or five clergy who had been given such titles left the priesthood or 'retired' early, such promotions became a sign of the Bishops poor judgement.

There is certainly a different attitude in different parts of the world to such things as titles, in the Spanish speaking world they are a bit like the family jewels or medals that come out on a particular occassions and then are ignored, in Italy they seem to be a class thing, in Britain like life peerages or more likely  OBEs and MBEs they are a bit silly but harmless, I suspect in other parts of the world they are taken a little more seriously.

Sometimes these things can be useful, for example where a Bishop is needed but can't be had. The most obvious example is with the Ordinariates, or to head various Vicariates or even diocesan Curiae . I can't help thinking that the abolition of such honours in these situations hasn't been thought through, it is a bit of a papal tinkering, another example of 'micromanagement' from a limited perspective. Monsignors, 'faux bishops' can be useful, if we don't have them we are likely to appoint real bishops in their place, indeed I expect every priest upon reaching 65 will be given the title Monsignor. The obvious question is what will happen to the Ordinariates when their present Ordinaries retire, will they -they are supposed to be the equivalent of a diocese- be replaced by simple priests or will their Ordinaries be ordained Bishop. Rather than sending a simple priest to represent them will bishops have to attend unproductive meetings and events, will this not mean an increase in the Bishop's workload in administration and therefore end up by increasing the necessity for yet more Auxiliary Bishops?
at one time a high ranking Monsignor would carry the Papal close-stool in procession

I don't think ecclesiastical baubles on this level are the real problem, the real problem is the theological nonsense of real bishops, who are not bishops. I mean what is an 'Auxiliary Bishop', a sort of Bishop's curate in Episcopal orders? A Bishop is supposed be the head of a local Church with people and clergy, the Episcopate is above all a pastoral office, he is the bridegroom, married to his own Church. What sense is there in a Bishop 'for the Forces' who has borrowed clergy who will never ordain a priest for his own 'diocese'. Why should Vatican apparatchiks who have little connection with ordinary people be Bishops or Archbishops, they have no clergy and no people. Why should the Pope's Secretary of State, or for that matter the Prefect of the Papal Household or the Prefect of the CDF or the other dicasteries, or Papal Nuncios be made Archbishops? In what sense do they fulfil their sacramental office?  

There was a time when the holders of such high offices were deacons or even sub-deacons.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Disappointment in 2014

Pope Francis kisses disfigured man
Just a prediction for 2014: disappointment!

I have just read the annoying Peter Stanford's article in the Daily Telegraph where he sets out his hopes for Pope Francis' pontificate. He will certainly be disappointed.

Fr Mark Drew has an article in Stanford's old paper, the Catholic Herald, in which he fears the kind of reaction we experienced in the wake of Humanae Vitae: liberals had built up an expectation that the Church would change its teaching that sexual acts should be open to life, they either left in droves or remained and seriously weakened the Church from the inside.
The Pope seems to be waiting upon the extraordinary synod on the family, convened for the coming October, before making a definitive judgment. In the meantime, he will need to steady the barque if the synodal debate is to be serene and the outcome received by the whole Church. If the debate is not well guided, there is a threat to unity. A decision for relaxing the rules would risk alienating and disorientating many who have respected and defended the present discipline, often at real personal cost.
On the other hand, a decision to maintain the status quo might unleash a storm reminiscent of the dissent caused by the publication of Humanae Vitae in 1967. That decision disappointed many who were confidently expecting a different outcome, and proved a turning point in the pontificate of Paul VI. That pope, who had been previously hailed as a confident proponent of reform, often appeared beleaguered and broken afterwards. To avoid such an eventuality, Pope Francis needs to play his role as teacher of the faith and centre of Catholic unity with clarity and courage. It is a daunting task for any human being, and the Pope needs our prayers.
Another area where perhaps there will disappointment is within the  Curia, months of harsh words and uncertainty have seriously sapped morale, many low level officials have left Rome in recent months, the careerist have stayed the pastorally minded have gone. As Fr Mark Drew draws attention to another danger: nepotism. The rigidity that is likely to come from a Curia of a particular stripe rather than of varied talents is likely to produce a certain brittleness and intolerance. A Pope who is personally laid back is likely to produce lieutenants who believe they have his mind on particular issues and push their interpretation of that position with all the force they can muster. Already we seem to have seen something of this with the Friars of the Immaculate.

There was an article I read earlier in the week in which the author stressed Pope Francis tended to be presented in terms of 'image' as opposed to 'message', the author suggested the Gospel was about 'message' rather than 'image'. Images might satisfy those on the peripheries but those closer to the centre want the message. The broad brush approach satisfies the outsider but inside detail is needed.

One of the great problems with any Pope is that the court separates him from reality, already we have seen in the reported conversations with Bishop Scicluna and Cardinal Meisner that the Pope seems unaware of the impact of his words. If Meisner was the first to have the courage to confront the Pope with the impact of his words, then it would seem that the Pope is indeed isolated, that those around him and flattering courtiers and this likely to increase.
“When I last visited Pope Francis recently I was able to speak to him very openly about all and sundry. I drew his attention to the fact that some of what he had said in interviews and short addresses had left certain questions open to debate which really needed explaining further for those not in the know,” Cardinal Meisner said.
“The Pope opened his eyes wide and asked me to give him an example. I pointed to his remark about remarried divorcees on the plane back from Rio. [when the Pope had said, “I believe this is the time of mercy.”]
“Whereupon the Pope said quite simply: ‘Divorcees can go to communion – remarried divorcees cannot.’
It is interesting that he seems to have learnt that interviews with atheist logothetes like Eugenio Scalfari  can be pretty disastrous, whether he will learn he has to speak clearly for himself is another matter.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Marxist Popes scares off American donors

Interesting, La Stampa reports wealthy American donors are being put off by the Pope Francis, apparently he is a 'Marxist'!

Well they would be wouldn't they. There was bound to be a cultural clash between a Latin American Pope and US Conservative Catholics. Neo-Cons are a real problem, not just their boorish manners.

The basic 'Americanist' tendency is to subject everything to the 'American dream', including Catholicism. It is obviously there in Obama's Medicare thinking. It is in Henry Ford's 'Melting Pot Ceremony'; put any ingredients into the pot and outcomes an American, it is parody of Catholicism, where anyone is placed into font and out comes a Christian, our old identity including our political affiliations behind and 'become a new man in Christ'. E Pluribus Unum.

It is quite fair to ask questions of the Pope, even to criticise him but what worries me is the, 'we don't like this one so let's disobey or ignore him', this is the root heresy and disunity. There is such a danger in such an attitude that it risks souls. All of us have a duty to maintain the unity of the Church and therefore a duty of submission of heart and soul to Peter, ultimately it is this submission to Christ's Vicar that is the mark of our belonging to Christ, 'He who listens to you listens to me'. Lk 10:16

I must admit I find Francis challenging, some of the stuff that apparently he comes out with, the off the cuff sermons at S Martha seems to be said without much thought.

What Francis seems to be demanding is that our politics, our way of thinking, our social action, our friendships, our personal opinions are supposed to founded on Christ, not on the Tea Party, the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. It might well be that a Catholic takes up a particular stance but it is the Gospel that has to be first. Just as Liberation Theology is evil if it doesn't have Christ at its centre and end, so too with any other ideology, not just political ideologies but theological one's too.

What Francis challenges us to do, is to make Christ visible, most especially by reaching out to the poor and the marginalised, and seeing them as having infinite value. The 'American dream' seems to have no place for the poor, whereas Catholic social teaching wants to turn our very souls, to say nothing of our society, upside down.

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...